Tragedy has a way of reminding of us of what is important in life.

Years ago, a friend of mine tragically lost her life much too soon. This sudden loss caused those who knew her best to examine our own lives more closely.

“When I lose someone so suddenly, I feel like it’s a tap on my shoulder reminding me to not squander today. To make the most of this day, and the present.”

This past week, I felt reminded of this once again.

As my husband I returned from a backpack trip last Monday, I got a call that my mother had suffered a stroke. We made a marathon trip back to my home state of Missouri to assist my elderly parents during this stressful time.

It’s a reminder to me how fragile life is. Don’t squander what is today, even if circumstances aren’t perfect.

Carpe Diem – seize the day.

It is that mantra that has led me on many of life’s adventures, more often than not in the mountains somewhere.

Though I now call Nederland my home, I spent many years in the Sierra Nevada. At 26 years old, I first “seized the day” by chucking a conventional job and life in Washington, DC.

Moving to Mammoth Lakes, California, gave me my first glimpse of life in the mountains. I immediately fell in love with the smell of pine, vistas of granite mountains, and feet and feet of winter snow.

At the time, many people told me I was crazy. Leaving a well-paid job, for a minimum wage job at a ski resort seemed like career suicide.

Others secretly told me they envied me.

“The truth is I wish I could just move out west to the mountains. But I just bought a new car. My friends are here. I can’t just leave all that behind for something so unknown!”

But something felt so freeing as I drove across the country, leaving behind crowded cities for nature and wide open spaces.

As the miles ticked off the odometer, and the distance separated me from my former life, I felt a sense of freedom, a huge weight lifted off of me.  After leaving my parents’ home in St. Louis, I pressed on, driving through the rolling hills of Missouri and then the prairies of Kansas.   The further west I ventured, the more enthralled I became by what I saw out my windows.  Wide open spaces, the towns becoming sparse dots on the landscape with miles of land in between.   Big sky country, with large expanses of blue extending out over a hundred miles on the horizon.  So this is where those western songs come from, where they talk about “where the skies are not cloudy all day”.

As I approached the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, snow capped jagged peaks appeared all around me.  I marveled at the ruggedness of the scenery and the azure blue sky.

After an overnight in Ely, Nevada, I crossed the border into California and headed south down Highway 395 to my new home.  Thick forests of pine and fir dotted the mountains on either side.  Crystal clear water tumbled through the rocks alongside the road.  The towns were few and far between and usually consisted of rustic buildings and one main street.  Finally I reached the exit for Mammoth Lakes, making the turn to a new life and new home.

When I arrived in Mammoth Lakes, elevation 7,880 feet, the first thing I remembered upon getting out of the car was not the sights, but the smells.  It smelled fresh and clean, the pungent smell of pine and fir overwhelming my senses.  A smell I had only previously experienced at Christmastime became an every day occurrence.

My heart swelled with joy and contentment.